United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities has long been an institution serving people of multiple religious backgrounds, and in recent years, this has included a thriving Unitarian Universalist (UU) community. To respond to the needs of its UU students, United is launching an MDiv in UU Studies program this fall.
United has the second largest UU population at a seminary non-affiliated with the UU denomination. As the second largest faith tradition represented by students at United, the rise in UU students is paralleled by a significant role that UUs play in the school’s faculty and staff.
Dr. Demian Wheeler, a Unitarian Universalist who serves as United’s director of advanced studies and assistant professor of philosophical theology and religious studies, is gearing up to teach a Unitarian Universalist history and theology class in spring 2020. Says Wheeler, “This brand-new degree program aims to prepare UU students for ordained ministry in a UU congregation, grounding them in UU history, polity, theology and worship. Choosing a seminary like United allows UU students to pursue their education and ministerial formation in an ecumenical and pluralistic context.”
The Unitarian Universalist movement is growing as a denomination, countering the often perceived assessment that liberal denominations are on the decline. In fact, in 2018, when the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) reported slight growth (a net of 980 new members), the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination, reported a decline in membership, while a 2019 Gallup report shows a decline in membership for the Catholic Church in the United States.
Rev. Karen Hutt, a UU minister and chaplain, is vice president for student formation, vocation and innovation. She co-founded and co-pastored a dual-affiliated United Church of Christ/UU church in Chicago and is editor of The Call to Care: Essays by Unitarian Universalist Chaplains. “One of the things that make the MDiv in UU Studies programs special is the fact that it is offered at an ecumenical school,” she said. “UU students need to be engaged with people of different faiths.”